What’s Wrong With Mindless Practice?

Most music teachers warn against the dangers of mindless practice, and rightfully so. Most of our earlier musical efforts would be wasted if we practice mindlessly, never thinking about the quality of our work and just simply tackling the music without care. However, there are some times when this kind of practice is actually desirable and I believe it is important to know when to practice mindfully and when to practice mindlessly.

Never Practice Mindlessly

First let’s verify and confirm which material should never be practiced mindlessly.

Your physical rudiments should never be practiced mindlessly. When you practice your long tones, lip slurs, pedal tones, etc., your mind should be fully engaged in what you are doing. You need to be aware of even the slightest imperfections in your sound, accuracy, articulation, intonation, etc.

If your mind is not always engaged when you practice physical rudiments, you are missing the entire point of doing them. I see the daily rudiments as something like a daily checkup. I’m testing to make sure that all the mechanics are working properly. Without that daily checkup, bad habits may find their way into my playing without me knowing it.

We should also never practice mindlessly any time we learn something new. Whether it’s a new scale, a new exercise, or a new piece of music, you must keep your mind focused on what you are doing in order to be absolutely certain that you are doing it correctly.

To be even more specific, this also applies to new measures or phrases of a song. You see, the way I teach students to practice, they use a lot of repetition in their practice sessions. When a student first introduces a new measure or a new phrase, that student’s mind needs to be fully engaged in what he is doing so that he is certain the new material was added correctly.

Why would I say it that way? Isn’t a new song just a new song? Why single out individual measures of a new song?

The way I practice and the way I teach my students to practice makes them familiar with the song as they learn it. Before they ever finish practicing a piece of music, individual sections of that music are no longer “new” and don’t require nearly as much focus and concentration as the newly added measures or phrases.

Mindlessness as the Final Musical Goal

However, I believe that we achieve our best performance levels when we perform from our subconscious minds, as opposed to our conscious minds. I believe that the mental process of high quality performance is too involved and complex for anyone to accomplish with conscious thought. People who do continue to perform from that part of their minds never reach the level of musical maturity that we associate with great performances.

The problem is this, how do we get to the point where we are performing from the subconscious parts of our brain?

The way I teach my students to practice purposefully inserts the music into the subconscious part of the brain. It is simply the practice technique itself that does the work and requires no extra effort on behalf of the student. In other words, they have no need to “try harder” to make the music more subconscious. They achieve that result naturally by practicing the using the practice techniques the way I tell them to.

Day Dreaming

The students will know when they accomplish this process of transferring the music from their conscious minds to their subconscious minds when they find themselves daydreaming while they practice. Yes, you read that right. Mindlessness is the final goal of most of my practice techniques.

When the music has been repeated correctly enough times, we then gain the ability to perform that music without thinking about it.

That’s what we want! We want this kind of mindless practice because that’s what leads to mindless performance!

Yes, I know this is a controversial thing to say. I think most teachers I’ve ever heard speak on this topic have always said that mindless practice is nothing more than wasted time. As you can see, I completely disagree.

As my student, you will learn the practice techniques that eventually lead toward mindless practice with all of its wonderful benefits. If you live in the Houston area and would like to sign up for lessons, feel free to use the contact form to the right of this post and I will respond as soon as I can.

About Eddie Lewis

Eddie Lewis is primarily known as a Christian free-lance trumpet player in Houston, TX. Eddie makes a living playing trumpet, teaching trumpet and jazz improvisation, writing trumpet music and authoring trumpet books. His second book, Daily Routines for Trumpet, is used regularly by thousands of trumpet players around the world. If you would like to purchase some of his CD's, feel free to visit our online music store at http://www.TigerMusicStore.com.
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